Guest Blogger : My name is Andi Harmon; I have been a BLM volunteer for about 11 years now, helping at adoptions, taking photos and posting them on the Internet and helping to educate the public about the wild horses.
|"Mariah and Hailey"|
Orphan Kiger Foals from the 2011 Kiger round ups.
5 by 7 inch watercolor on embossed paper
by LindaLMartin Artist
About 8 years ago, my late husband and I began caring for orphan foals. Since that time, to date, 32 foals have come down the driveway here! Orphans #30 (Mariah, gray Kiger filly, 1-2 months old), #31 (Hailey, grulla Kiger filly, 1-2 months old) and #32 (Sasha, dun Kiger filly, 1-2 months old) are currently taking up residence in one of my corrals!
Raising orphans has been challenging, discouraging, heartbreaking, heartwarming, rewarding and educational! These babies have taught me SO much and have given back much more than I have given to them. It’s not an easy job, and the younger the babies, the tougher the job. I’ve had orphans as young as less than a day old; those feedings every 3-4 hours are HARD! Especially if you have a sick or injured foal. And, of course, they are wild and have NO clue what humans are all about and to have to force a bottle in their mouth several times a day for several days before they “get it” can be frustrating as well as scary! They simply MUST eat or they will die but it can be a battle to convince them of that little fact.
One of the things I learned about was stress. Foals are already stressed because they lost their dams. This makes them susceptible to ulcers and scours. In addition, if they are stressed, it makes them more susceptible to infections, as they aren’t as healthy as other foals on their dams. I like to give them probiotics the day they arrive to help settle their tummies right off the bat. The quicker they are gentled and accepting, the quicker they get over depression and stress and the better they will do all the way around.
With bottle babies, I try to get them on a “self-feeder” I made as soon as possible. It usually takes about a week for them to be drinking their milk well. Then I bring in the self-feeder, a large Igloo or Coleman water cooler, one of the 1-2 gallon ones with the spout on the bottom. I removed the spout, put in a piece of PVC pipe and sealed it, then put a nipple on the end of the pipe. I hang the cooler from the fence, full of milk, with the top vented. They can drink when they want and not have to gorge themselves at individual feedings 4-6 times a day (depending on the age) and it keeps them from getting pushy and trying to treat their human like a horse.
One of the hardest things is discipline. A person works hard to gain the trust of these babies, so when they try to bite or kick or rear or run into you or whatever other disrespectful thing babies are wont to do, they must be corrected and disciplined. Oh, the first time a foal turned it’s little butt to me and attempted to kick and I had to smack it and send it off, I thought *I* was going to die! I know it’s for THEIR own good, as well as mine. No one likes a spoiled brat! But they understand and respect having boundaries and discipline; it’s a critical part of growing up! Doesn’t make it any easier on the one doling out the spankings though!
Raising orphans has had other challenges as well. Sometimes, the foals won’t take to the milk replacer and get scours (diarrhea) which compromises their health greatly. I’ve had to experiment with different strengths in the formula, adding fresh or canned goat’s milk and adding all natural yogurt. The yogurt is a great thing to add to the milk, especially if a foal has scours or is on antibiotics for illness or injury. The antibiotics are necessary to combat infections but it also strips the tummy of the necessary nutrients. So the use of PRObiotics, while using ANTIbiotics, helps keep the stomach more stable in the young ones.
I’ve found when babies get really sick, and it’s coupled with depression and stress, they sometimes give up. A “super B” vitamin shot can give a momentary relief, increasing the appetite and making the foal feel better in general. At that critical time, if you can get them on the “upswing”, they will usually pull out of their doldrums and come around. I remember one cold, snowy December with a sick orphan that was getting so weak from her ailments, she was unable to stand up on her own without the fear of crashing to the ground. For about 2-3 weeks, I spent every night in a stall with blankets, pillows and a heater to help “Sweetheart” to her feet every few hours so she could eat, drink and potty.
She wore a blanket and I had layers of clothes as well. I put down a heavy horse blanket on the floor of the stall on top of the shavings, and had 2 more old blankets to cover myself up with. Initially I brought out 1 pillow; after getting pushed and butted and kicked, I discovered 2 pillows was needed; one for me and one for Sweetheart. Did you know little orphan foals can snore VERY loudly? I’m happy to say Sweetheart is now 6 years old and living with her new family!
Monday Part 2: The Ups and Downs of Fostering Foals